Today is Day 20 of the Thirty Days of Love. Today’s action is to investigate what the immigration detention system looks like in your area. Click here for resources, family actions, and more! Click here to sign up for the daily Thirty Days of Love emails.
In November 2011, I was driving home after an HIV benefit, when I was pulled over for not having a license plate light. I was dressed in drag, wearing jeans, high heels, a wig, and a cute shirt. The police officer gave me a sobriety test, which I passed, with heels on and everything. But I had been drinking a little that night, although he was going to let me go, a second officer pulled up, and they decided to take me in.
I was thrown into the jail, in drag. The people who were detained were playful, whistled, and even friendly, but the harshest looks I got were from the police officers. Early the next morning, around 4:00 AM, I was taken to the Metropolitan Detention Center. My mother was trying to help me, and had sent money to a friend for my bond, but they told her I had an Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) hold. This meant that they had identified me as undocumented, and they would not let me out. I spent the next 120 days in jail.
In detention, there is little privacy. I was paid only $1 for an 8 hour work day and some of the guards were racist and homophobic. Despite all of this, the hardest thing was not being able to see my family.
Although I will never forget how hard it was to be in detention, I am happy that I was able to be out as a queer person. I feel like it gave courage to other people who were also LGBTQ. We would get together, and would talk back to those who were harassing us. It taught me to stand up for my dignity, and to support fellow LGBTQ people in detention.
Thinking about the stories that I heard in detention always make me cry, which is why I try not to talk about it, or think about it. I remember the pain, the isolation, the separation from my family. I continue to organize because I remember all the people that were in there, how much my family suffered, how badly we got treated, and because I have lost so many friends. This is a fight for all of us. The strength that my family showed me and the stories of those still in the detention center are what gives me the will to face my fears.
For today’s action, investigate what the detention system looks like in your area. To get started, check out this map of detention centers and learn more about detention visitation programs.
Angel Alvarez is 23 years old, a self-identified undocu-queer, and currently lives in Phoenix, AZ. He has been in the United States since he was one year old. He has been involved in his community and in the migrant justice movement for many years.
The message below went out on Thursday, July 5, 2012 to Standing on the Side of Love supporters. You can sign-up for these emails here.
I have been working with CREER Comunidad y Familia, an immigrant-led group that serves local immigrant families in San Juan Capistrano, for several years now alongside members of my congregation – Tapestry UU of Mission Viejo. We have been providing after-school tutoring and other activities including teaching each other English and Spanish. Additionally, CREER is a member of OCCCO (Orange County Congregation Community Organization), an interfaith community organization affiliated with the PICO Network that Tapestry also belongs to.
Two years ago, five members of Tapestry UU, who were already passionate about reforming our immigration system led a listening campaign at Tapestry to find a specific action our whole congregation could get behind and become more involved with. Thanks to guidance from our community organizer at OCCCO, we eventually chose to visit immigrant detainees in local jails which serve as detention centers here in Orange County.
We had heard about abuses in the centers and at first we planned to bear witness to some of the egregious things happening inside the walls. As we listened to the immigrant community about what they really needed from us, the project evolved though, into a visitation program to help the isolated people inside. Through research meetings with local enforcement officials, ex-detainees, and immigration attorneys we began making plans to visit the closest detention facility, James A. Musick in Irvine.
Last year at the UU General Assembly in Charlotte I met Grassroots Leadership, a national organization working to reduce immigrant detention and provide support to people being held in detention. In January, Grassroots Leadership came to southern California and trained over 20 people from four UU congregations in Orange County. They also travelled to First UU in San Diego for a training there. It was exciting to learn of San Diego’s similar project, and we have developed a great partnership since then. Grassroots taught us about a whole new world of opportunities for providing tangible support. The Detention Watch Network has become our partner to help us monitor what’s happening inside these centers. We also heard from Jose de Jesus Penaflor, an ex-detainee, who talked about his life before, during, and after detention. He was bonded out by a fund created at First Unitarian Church of Los Angeles. Our support made a huge difference to Jose and his family.
Visitation programs connect people in civil immigration detention with community members. We provide them with a link to the outside world, while also preventing human rights abuses by creating a community presence in otherwise invisible detention facilities. We are also there to help families of detainees.
Having witnessed what these programs can do, I want to ask you to join the upcoming webinar on July 25th led by Grassroots Leadership and Detention Watch Network to learn about what you can do. Please RSVP here:
Everyone at Tapestry, although we have varying opinions of how to fix our broken immigration system, can understand that there are human rights abuses going on in these facilities. We want to help the families of those isolated and provide support to those in detention.
Since our training in January, we have held meetings with jail and enforcement officials, attorneys who do legal orientation know your rights programs in Los Angeles, an organizer of an ICE-approved visitation program, and a local law school immigrant rights group. We were appalled to find out that there are no current legal orientation programs (LOP’s) at the Orange County jails where immigrant detainees are housed. Now that a monthly LOP program has been set up here, participating attorneys are our link to find detainees seeking visitors.
Sign up to learn more about how to start a detainee visitation program here:
We plan to start our official visits in the fall. Spanish interpreters include friends we made way back in the beginning when we began our relationship with CREER Comunidad y Familia. Plans include getting clergy more involved and strengthening this growing interfaith movement. Although this ministry is not directly an advocacy effort as we had first imagined, we are building power through our relationships with attorneys and also with jail and ICE officials.
This has become a very personal issue to me. Not only am I working for and with my good friends in San Juan Capistrano, but I feel part of a big movement, a civil rights movement of our time. From service we are building solidarity.
I hope you will join the July 25th webinar on “Breaking the Isolation of Immigration Detention: Starting a Visitation Program.” To learn more before the webinar, please visit www.endisolation.org.
Rooted in Faith and Standing on the Side of Love,
Jan Meslin, Member, Detention Dialogues Orange County
May 6, 2012. The Boston New Sanctuary Movement organized a vigil outside the Middlesex Correctional Facility. Since Massachusetts does not have detention centers, Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) contracts with community prisons to hold the detainees. This facility currently has close to 300 undocumented persons. Standing on the Side of Love was there in full force.
Two kids. About 12 and 9. A girl and a boy. Crying inconsolably. Hugging their moms. We rub their backs, try to comfort them. And, we are crying with them – tears or no tears!
Just before this: One of the mothers is on the microphone. You cannot ignore her voice even if you are deaf. Never mind if you – like me – don’t know Spanish. Her fury and exasperation is flowing out of every pore of her body. Her small body is shaking, trembling. She says, now in English: “Jesus; I love you. I love you for you.” Jesus is her husband’s name. No más deportaciones, she cries. We all take up the chant. No Mas Deportacions! No more deportations!
We are a group of some fifty people, gathered in South Boston, on a beautiful spring Sunday, right outside the Suffolk County Correctional Facility. It is a big and imposing building. I have driven past it on the Southeast Expressway many times, but never had any idea what it was. Here I am now with many others, facing the building.
Photo by Ed Wright
We chant, we sing, we pray. We read the names of more than a hundred who have died in detention; the last one, right here at this very facility. Their only crime: they did not have their “papers.” Rev. Wendy von Zirpolo, minister at the UU Church of Marblehead, reminds us that, except for the Native Americans, we are all immigrants. The Pilgrims arrived with no documents either, I recall.
While the Obama administration has stated that ICE will focus on violent offenders and people convicted of crimes, and not break up families, last month the Department of Homeland Security released a report that flatly belies this policy. From January to June 2011, Immigration and Customs Enforcement removed 46,486 undocumented parents who claimed to have at least one child who is an American citizen. The extraordinary acceleration in the dismantling of these families, part of the government’s efforts to meet an annual quota of about 400,000 deportations, has had devastating results. Children of these families experience psychological and economic disruptions, including housing and food insecurity, and anxiety, frequent crying, changes in eating and sleeping patterns, withdrawal and anger. In the long run, the children of deportation face increased odds of lasting economic turmoil, psychic scarring, reduced school attainment, greater difficulty in maintaining relationships, social exclusion and lower earnings. (See The New York Times April 20, 2012 ‘Deporting Parents Hurts Kids‘)
Photo by Dennis H. Brown
We start marching, shouting slogans. We are at the back of the building, along a major roadway. Some people inside the Facility see us. They wave to us; they pound on the windows. Our spirits are lifted: they know we are here. We hope their spirits are lifted too; there is support outside. We march on, cross a little street, go up some stairs, walk on to a bridge. Now we are face to face with the Facility – only some 250 feet separate us. We chant slogans. We wave our hands. We wave our signs. We are communicating in a language we know not; it must be the language of love!
There are fifteen or so windows in front of us. Some seem to have only one or two people; others seem to be packed. Waving, pounding, they try to look outside the windows. We can barely make out their faces, but we can see their hands and arms. And make out human forms. It is all blurry, except for the inhumanity of the incarceration!
Does anyone want to say anything to the detainees inside? Yes, this woman does, someone shouts.
She comes charging forward. She is from Guatemala. She takes the microphone and with a sincerity and force you will never ever see at a political event, starts speaking. I am right behind her. She is forceful. Her voice is strong but full of pain. I don’t understand the words, but I want to reach out and hug her. We are with you, Sister, don’t worry. We will reunite you with Jesus, I want to say. But I just put my hand on her shoulder. She keeps going.
Cars drive by on the road. A few honk. Others pay no attention.
She talks for some five minutes. Now she is sobbing. Julie, a divinity student, comes forward; she knows Spanish and can speak with her. Jesus was picked up some two weeks ago. He is not in good health. Heart and kidney problems. Dear God – this does not sound too good, I say to myself. Doctor? Not, not yet, but next week; they’ve promised him. I ask her if she has a lawyer; yes, she says. Does she needs any help – in any way, can any of the groups present here do anything. No, thank you; she is just very grateful that people have come out in support of the detainees. She does not need anything.
Photo by Ed Wright
The boy comes, hugs her, starts to cry. Another woman is coming forward, distraught but smiling. Her husband is also in there. No, she does not want to say anything. Her daughter is hugging her, crying.
Across the street, in one of the windows, they have put up a sign, one letter at a time: FREE US.
We disperse. I don’t know where the two women came from. I don’t know how they heard about this vigil but organizers from Centro Presente are with us so they may have connected us all. I don’t know what their life has been like. I have so many questions, but no vocabulary to talk with them.
I get back to the comfort of my home and my family. Wonder what they are doing? Wonder what they are thinking?
And: How long will this insanity go on? How long will we – all of us – let it go on.
Rashid Shaikh is a member of First Parish Cambridge Unitarian Universalist Immigration Task Force.
For more information on how to connect with interfaith groups and others conducting vigils, find a New Sanctuary Movement chapter near you (there’s no national website currently, so search for your city on the web) and Grassroots Leadership. Congregations and individuals can join the UUA in the interfaith campaign Restoring Trust: Breaking ICE’s Hold on our Communities to stop the ICE ‘Secure Communities’ mass detention and deportation program.